Author: Frank N. Wilner

Rail Union Ordered to Bargain on Crew Consist

This is about a railroad labor union committed to serving its dues paying members, and a rail industry losing its core revenue traffic—coal—and now facing off against omnipresent low-cost, non-union truckers for the trailers and containers comprising much of the railroads’ future traffic base. It’s about new technology—the product of knowledge that for centuries has transformed the nature, quality and quantity of work. In this instance, the technology is Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety overlay system substituting artificial intelligence for engineer inattention or distraction. PTC, as does most new technology, creates job redundancies.

The Amtrak Funding Déjà Vu—Again

Color it neither Democratic nor Republican. It’s Amtrak—or, more precisely, the Amtrak déjà vu. Since its 1971 creation by Congress as America’s national intercity passenger railroad, Amtrak’s survival has been a near-run thing dependent on a never absolutely certain—but always occurring—bipartisan congressional willingness to cough up subsidy.

Nostalgia Not in Amtrak’s Future

WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE: Spending others’ money as if it were one’s own isn’t successful politics. Yet notwithstanding Congress’ current appetite for trillion-dollar annual deficits, there are limits to federal spending—especially on Amtrak, which labors perennially for but a miniscule portion.

Haverty Factor Fueled Rail Trade Growth

WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE: When Mexico’s President Porfirio Diaz lamented more than a century ago of his nation being “so far from God and so close to the United States,” he hadn’t contemplated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which demonstrably enhances efficiency, encourages innovation, increases consumer purchasing power, makes a wider assortment of goods available and raises standards of living.

Fred B. Rooney, 1925-2019

Fred Bernard Rooney, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, died Dec. 23, 2019 at age 94. He was a dependable friend of railroads and instrumental in successful passage of the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform (4-R) Act, which formalized the creation of Conrail following Penn Central’s bankruptcy, introduced for the first time the concept of railroad revenue adequacy, and provided small steps toward greater railroad economic deregulation delivered by the 1980 Staggers Rail Act.

The “Baking” of Short Line Sustenance

WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE DECEMBER 2019 ISSUE: Kermit the Frog won our hearts singing “lovers, the dreamers and me,” while Thomas the Tank Engine’s “yes we can” encouraged us and Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” inspired us. These words also describe small-railroad entrepreneurs providing the first and last mile for one of every five carloads.

Impeachment Saved ICC/STB Independence

While talk of Presidential impeachment is difficult to avoid, probably few can recite how the impeachment of a federal judge in 1912 helped to secure the independence of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and its Surface Transportation Board (STB) successor.

STB: Heed Seriously the Yak Fat Ghost

On 74 acres in central Virginia, there graze for commercial production some two-dozen Himalayan yaks—a largely fat-free, shaggy, handlebar-horned and oft cantankerous animal first imported to North America during the 19th century. If the connection of yak and its fat to transportation economic regulation is not obvious, blame your youth, as more than half a century has passed since the Great Yak Fat Caper of 1965 entered railroad lore—a dirty-trickster’s fraud now indelibly stained on the Interstate Commerce Commission’s (ICC) reputation, and, by association, its Surface Transportation Board (STB) successor.

Railroads, Labor Trade Contract-Change Demands

Collective bargaining between most of the nation’s largest railroads, represented by the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), and their 12 craft-specific labor unions commenced Nov. 1 with the two sides exchanging broadly defined demands in preparation for face-to-face talks to amend contracts setting wages, benefits and work rules. Some two-dozen smaller railroads also are participating.

FRA’s Batory: “Let the Facts Speak”

WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE NOVEMBER 2019 ISSUE: At the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), where challenges are voluminous and time is short because the nation’s top rail safety cop serves at the pleasure of the White House occupant, Administrator Ronald L. (Ron) Batory is pedaling furiously to accomplish priorities—cardinal of which is assuring demonstrable facts overwhelm opinion.